PCTs set to buy panic alarms for primary care staff

GPs and practice staff who make home visits could be given personal panic alarms to alert police and security staff if they feel they are in danger of being attacked by violent patients.

Dr Helena McKeown
Dr Helena McKeown

As part of a drive to tackle the rising number of assaults on NHS staff, £97 million has been set aside in England for more than 30,000 satellite-linked devices for front line hospital staff and isolated workers.

Funds will also be available for PCTs to run more courses in how to diffuse dangerous situations.
As GPs are not NHS staff, it will be down to each PCT to decide whether to include them in the programme. But a spokesman for the DoH said PCTs will be encouraged to roll out local panic alarm programmes to GPs making home visits to patients who could pose a risk.

Dr Helena McKeown has had trouble from patients being aggressive towards staff at her Salisbury Surgery in Wiltshire. Last year a colleague was held at knifepoint for three hours by a drug addict when she visited the patient’s home. As the visit was at the end of a shift, nobody was aware that she was in trouble.

Dr McKeown said: ‘This is brilliant news. I really hope PCTs involve GPs. Dealing with drug addicts and patients with alcohol problems are a part of the job. Sometimes they do get abusive when I tell them that I am not prepared to give them more drugs because they are desperate, but it is not helping them. When I am on my own or on home visits a silent alarm would be a great reassurance.’

The plans were unveiled last week by health secretary Alan Johnson at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth, Dorset.

The alarms will be given to staff working alone or covering graveyard shifts in out-of-hours centres and hospitals enabling police and security staff to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of a member of staff in trouble.

Remaining cash will fund prosecutions against violent patients, Mr Johnson said.
BMA Wales has applauded the plans but says it should be extended to include all front-line staff. It has also called on Welsh health minister Edwina Hart to follow suit and inject substantial funds into dealing with the problem.

Scotland has no plans to introduce panic alarms but Northern Ireland is pursuing the idea.

henry.ellis@haymarket.com

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